Wow…..where do I begin about Mother Maybelle Carter? To come so far from the remotest backwoods of Clinch Mountain, WV (I’m told they had to walk towards town to go hunting), and begin a revolutionary musical style that still resonates across the world today is a feat that will most likely never be witnessed again. One of my colleagues noted in a previous post about Wanda Jackson that nothing is quite as sexy as a woman with a guitar. If Wanda Jackson was sexy, then Mother Maybelle was a picture of simple country grace.
Interesting facts about Maybelle and the Carter Family –
- None of the original Carter Family (A.P., Sara, and Maybelle) were actually related. Sara Dougherty was married to A.P., and Maybelle Addington was married to A.P.’s twin brother, Ezra “Eck” Carter.
- When the family moved to Del Rio, TX in the 1930’s to perform their radio show for station XERF, the signal strength was so strong (It was pre-FCC regulations), you could hear the music being played in the barbed wire fences a few miles away from the transmitter.
- Maybelle is given credit for discovering some unknown guitarist from Tennessee by the name of Chet Atkins. Chet used to back the family up during the Texas days.
- She was one of the main people who stood up for letting Elvis Presley perform on the Grand Ole Opry by telling them that she wouldn’t perform until he did. She also offered to run interference with distracting Bill Monroe while Elvis covered his song “Blue Moon of Kentucky”. (It turns out that Bill actually liked the way Elvis did it.)
- When Johnny Cash was battling his addiction problems, Maybelle and Eck were first on hand to help see him through the tough spots. It was later revealed by Maybelle that the main reason why she wanted to be involved wasn’t only to see Johnny through for his and June’s sake, but also to prevent a repeat of what she went through when her other daughter, Anita, had a quasi-affair with Hank Williams. With Hank’s rocky marriage that he wanted so badly to save, combined with what Hank felt to be a love so strong for Anita that should and could never be mixed in with his “I’m Hank Freakin’ Williams” addiction issues, it was the perfect storm that eventually ended up killing him. Hank lived the pain he sang about, but that’s another story for another day. (He even actually almost shot June. The bullet missed her by inches.)
Anyhoos….enough of my ceaseless prattling. I could go on for hours about the contributions of Mother Maybelle to music as we know it. (Don’t even get me started about her L-5 guitar being offered up for auction….Blasphemy. Pure. Blasphemy.)
I humbly submit this video of the Carter Family v2.0 (Mother Maybelle and her girls; Helen, Anita, and June on the autoharp) performing the bittersweet ballad of unrequited love that launched an entire style of music. The lyrics are very underrated as they really make you wish you could just hug away the pain (you can see them here), and the way the girls deliver the harmony vocals is like the feeling of witnessing some angels in calico come down from the mountain and offer up a little hope to this pale Wildwood Flower.